General Question

Seek's avatar

How does one support a friend through a breakup?

Asked by Seek (34769points) April 7th, 2016

Ugh, relationship questions amirite?

Seriously though. This whole having friends thing is haaaard.

I’ve never actually been through a breakup, but I’m pretty certain my friend is delusional. The guy she’s been with for nine years – the only guy she’s ever been with – broke up with her, moved out, and is now dating other people.

She is still convinced he’s going to come home.

She’s putting her entire life on hold and pining away for this shithead who I know considered her a port in a storm ever since he lost 100 pounds (with her as his personal trainer).

My friend is smart, and attractive, and an all around amazing person, and not only can she not get over this guy, she’s torturing herself by being unwilling to entertain the idea that he’s not coming back.

It really sucks to see my friend in pain.

Apart from all of the above, is there anything I can do or say to help her? Not necessarily to help her come to her senses – obviously she needs to do that in her own time of her own volition – but what exactly does one do to support their friends through such a strong emotional crisis?

Most of you did this in junior high, I’m sure… I missed out on that kind of life-training.

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36 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Hugs for you.

Listen. Just listen. When you are with her, listen to everything she says. Simple? No. Listen without speaking a single word. Just react in ways so she knows you’re listening to her. Really listen. Don’t listen and offer advice. Don’t listen to solve anything. Don’t listen in order to react. Listen to what she’s saying without judging.

Really listen.

In my work, this is the most important thing I do. When people are hurting, they want someone to listen. Finding a listener is extremely rare. Most people want to help solve the problem. As you said, she has to solve her own problem. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you can help her come to her senses. She may remain delusional for the rest of her entire life. You cannot know what’s going to happen. Don’t try to help. Just listen.

Listen without speaking. Try it. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

johnpowell's avatar

What Jake said or get her under someone else.

Seek's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake – You’re right. It will be hard. I’m a “fixer”-type. But of course this is about her, not me.

Most of the time we communicate through Facebook message, so the sitting silently doesn’t quite work, but for our face-to-face contact I will certainly take that advice.

longgone's avatar

I have a hard time doing the comfort thing, because all I want to do is offer solutions. Solutions are usually not wanted, and I get that. I’ve started asking questions. Questions show you’re listening and interested, and they often help people find answers by themselves. Questions also make things easier on me – I am much better at concentrating on the conversation when I challenge myself to ask the right questions.

If you’ve gone through difficult periods with this friend before, reminding her of how she recovered can help.

Seek's avatar

I’ve known her for about a year and a half. She was with the twatwaffle guy when I met her, and they broke up six months ago or so. She kept it a secret for ages because she thought it was just a tiff. She only told me when he moved out last month.

She’s also a survivor of extreme religious upbringing, so there’s the added psychological trauma of not marrying the first guy she slept with. She was convinced they would be married at some point (though nine years without a proposal is a bit of a long time if you ask me).

NerdyKeith's avatar

Awe that’s really tough. I would suggest hat your friend stay away from dating for some time. She needs to take some time to get back to herself (if you know what I mean). She needs to focus on other things, such as spending time with you amd her other friends, hobbies, work etc.

I think the human heart needs time to mend after it been broken. That’s what I would recommend.

Jak's avatar

@Seek. Goodonyamate. It’s tough watching something like that, especially when the solution seems so obvious to you. Rather than tell you what your friend needs to do, I would just add to the excellent advice from @Hawaii_Jake, and compose a few questions either mentally or even written down. Questions to reserve for later on when she has had time to process all this. Questions that she doesn’t necessarily have to answer in the moment but to ponder on. It’s better if she comes to the realization on her own about this twatwaffle. (Like it.) But you can get her thinking about it. Being close to the situation as you are, you will know which questions to ask because you already know or have a good idea about the answers. Good luck.

janbb's avatar

Just spending time with her is the biggest help. I know – my friends got me through a much worse “break-up.” If there’s stuff she enjoys, do it with her. If she wants to talk, listen; but you don’t need to lead her to talk about it or give advice. Advice usually doesn’t help unless she specifically asks for it, then you can be honest but don’t be brutal. We all need to process at our own rate. But I can tell you that the time spent with friends was a huge help in my healing.

trailsillustrated's avatar

Ugh it’s going to drive you nuts that she wants him back. Just try to help her see that she deserves better. This is how we all learn and everyone gets the shite end of the stick sometimes. Good luck you’re a really good friend. Omg I just read the part about nine years waiting for a proposal. Oh my goodness this woman needs a dose of reality please share “Dear Bossip” with her.

janbb's avatar

@Seek I just read your comment about mainly relating through messaging so my remarks about spending time together aren’t that useful. I have a relative going through something else that is rough and I communicate with her mainly through messaging. In that case, checking in regularly with her with just a “How are things going?” opening may be the best way. Personally, having someone tell me that I deserve better doesn’t help much when I’m gaga over a guy I can’t have or have lost but that may just be me. But do try to check and just support her as much as you can.

stanleybmanly's avatar

You’re already doing the right things for your friend who’s fortunate to have you there to lean on. My suggestion is that she keep herself occupied. Nothing accommodates the blues and feeling sorry for yourself like empty hours with nothing to do.

kritiper's avatar

Listen without being judgmental. What your friend needs from you now is empathy.

Pachy's avatar

Be a good listener and refrain from giving advice unless asked.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @NerdyKeith too, I’m a big believer in taking a lot of space between relationships. Sounds like this dude did a number on her possibly, already low self esteem. yes, nothing you can do except listen and reassure her that time wounds all heels. Thing is though, you also have to take care of you, listening to someones drama too much, especially if they seem hell bent on wallowing, takes it’s toll on you as well.
Does she have other friends to spread the unhappiness around with? haha

Maybe professional intervention is in order too if this goes on for longer than a few months. Everyone moves on in their own way and grieving is a highly personal thing but….there is a limit. I actually let go of a friend once that was choosing to remain in a highly dysfunctional marriage and after more than 2 YEARS, I couldn’t take it anymore, the endless lamenting, but unwillingness to do anything to change the situation. It’s also okay for you to tell a friend that there might come a time where you just can’t listen anymore.

flutherother's avatar

The important thing is to be there for your friend as much as possible as it seems she will need a lot of support in the coming months. The break up is bad enough but if there is a religious aspect to it as well that makes it twice as devastating. I would arrange a time to meet with her in person, that may be just what she needs right now.

JLeslie's avatar

Listen. Let her know you are available for her to talk talk talk until she is talked out.

Realize she is in mourning. It can be worse than the SO dying in some ways, because death you usually have to move into the acceptance stage faster, because of the reality, but instead he is still out there, enjoying himself without her.

The basic grieving stages are denial, bargaining, anger, acceptance. She is likely in denial and bargaining from what you have said. Hoping everything will get back to normal. The desire for everything to go back to the way it was partly has to do with the incredible pain she is in. The pain is not only emotional it often feels physical. Like a loss of a limb and/or pains develop like back aches and other things. It’s common for women to lose their appetite and for their digestive system to be screwed up. Men often have a lot of trouble sleeping. Some people shake, just start trembling, and of course crying is very common.

One thing that really helped me was knowing it was common to be a mess for a few months, but that the intensity of the sadness and physical symptoms will get better. For me, knowing it takes months for most people made me less worried it would be unending.

A lot of people told me I was young, pretty, smart, that there were many men who would want me. That didn’t help me. I never worried about that. My worry was feeling like shit and completely out of control forever. It was so bad. So incredibly bad. I finally got a script for Xanax and I think it saved my life. I took it just 6 weeks to get me through so I could eat again and semi-function.

My girlfriends stopped by so I wasn’t alone too often and my sister sent me a care package and friends came out of the woodwork and listened to me cry. Thank God for them and the drugs.

Coloma's avatar

^ Xanax is great for bad breakups. I took it too for awhile during a divorce some years ago now. Between my crazy boss and an acrimonious divorce it’s a wonder I made it out the other side too. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, it really is true.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Breakups are horrible and especially when you’re the person being dumped. She’s grieving. All that hope for the future, faith in that person, the feelings of betrayal… horrible. The person she loves has betrayed her and she’s having to learn to accept that and deal with it. In some ways I think a breakup after a long relationship can be worse than your partner dying. Your partner dying, in most cases, is not a rejection of you. A breakup is an absolute rejection of her. So as her friend, try to empathise with how she’s feeling. This isn’t junior high stuff. This is a huge change in the life she thought she had (even if she was ignoring obvious signs). Just listen and try to listen without judgement. It will take her quite a while to get through her grief. She will probably cycle through the same stage a few times before she makes it to the other side. It’s not fun for you and especially if you’ve recognised for ages that her ex is a dirtbag, but she has to go through this process.

JLeslie's avatar

I want to add that if she is having a lot of physical symptoms don’t let her go through all sorts of tests. I was incredibly lucky that during my break up I went to a doctor who realized it was mourning making me sick. My boyfriend and I had broken up, and I was ok-ish for a few weeks. Then I found out he was dating someone else and I crashed into despair. Dry heaves every morning, I barely could eat, diarrhea, I would shake, I lost ten pounds in a week. I was young and had never been through anything like it. I went to the doctor after a couple of weeks and I was shocked when he started telling me about when he broke up with a long time girlfriend he couldn’t sleep and it wreaked havoc in his life for a while. I was confused. I asked, “so you think I’m so sick, because of my break up.” I had no idea I could be so physically ill from a break up.

Cut to 15 years later and my neighbor’s mom and dad die within 3 months of each other. She tends to all that needs to be done regarding clearing out their house, dealing with all the loose ends. Then, after all of that is taken care of, she develops really bad digestive problems. They put her through a colonoscopy, endoscope, stool sample, multiple doctor appointments, they throw two different antibiotics at her that do nothing, and then eventually around the 6 month mark she starts to get better on her own. She just was in mourning, I’m convinced of it. She was very close to her parents, she knew she was in mourning, but she didn’t know how it could physically affect her. She had never had a bad break up (she married her high school sweetheart) and that was the first close family loss.

I tell you this, because as a friend if she does get physically ill you will know the break up might be the culprit. You’re not a doctor, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Judi's avatar

Ice cream and midnight trips to Wallmart are sometimes helpful

Seek's avatar

Letting my “Girl side” show a little:

I do watch that soap opera Grey’s Anatomy. If you’re familiar, Michelle and I are a bit like Meredith and Cristina in our interactions. It’s a running joke between us. So we’ve done shots and danced it out to crappy music. And there’s been ice cream over video chat. And sitting together and chatting after the painting party.

I just wish there was some way I could make it better. I suppose it’s the same for everyone though. No one likes to see their friends in pain. Or if they did they wouldn’t be very good friends I suppose.

Cupcake's avatar

@Seek You’re such a good friend. She’s so fortunate to have you.

I think little, unexpected things help. Beautiful, little, unexpected things. Like a postcard. Or a photo of a flower. Or a little poem. Either in the mail or through facebook. Things that she could keep (or print out and keep) and put in a frame, or hang on the fridge, or post in her cubicle. Something to remind her that although her most important person in her life rejected her, that she is still loved and worthy of love.

Or a voodoo doll with his face on it.

Seek's avatar

I sent her a card in the mail, actually. She should get it today. Just my own boring stationary with a “Hey Meredith, hope your day is as amazing as you are. Love, Cristina”

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I think she will love that. Perhaps give her a journal and suggest she use it to write down her thoughts and feelings. It might be a good tool to help her see how far she’s come.

Judi's avatar

I know that during my worst times some of the best friends were the ones who didn’t go over the details with me, just got me out of myself a bit.
When my first husband died I had a friend come and get me (first time I had left my children since he died) while everyone was with me mourning and walked around the mall with me. I (and everyone else) thought it was odd at the time but it got me out of myself for a few minutes. I think it was probably 10–20 years later before I realized the positive impact of that strange kind act.

JLeslie's avatar

I think the card is great. She’ll appreciate it.

Seek's avatar

This is haaaard.

He has a girlfriend now.

She’s still all “I miss him. He could come back. How could he replace me? Why isn’t this hard for him, too?”


Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Yes, that’s tough. She’s going to feel even more rejected and betrayed. There’s nothing you can say. Just listen and give it time to run its course.

Jak's avatar

@Seek. Sure you do. Just not with this person who is of a differing mentality. Reminds me of City Slickers; “No, he doesn’t get it! He’s never going to get it! The cows can program a VCR by now! HE’S NOT GOING TO GET IT!”

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek She desperately wants the situation to be different. Just accept she is in tremendous pain, and focus on that. If she lost a child (God forbid) you would understand how to be a friend for that I’m sure. You would understand the need to want the situation to be different, and why she would be out of control emotionally. I’m not comparing this to losing a child, but her trauma is pretty severe right now. You don’t need to identify with her specific situation, just be understanding about how difficult a time it is for her.

The worst thing is you can’t fix it. You just have to sort of sit by and be supportive.

Seek's avatar

I just found out he “left the relationship” and they’ve been basically friends with benefits for three years.

I could kill this guy. I mean, she’s clearly deluded herself, but I like her more than I like him.

I’m just asking questions at this point. Leading questions – therapist-style.

JLeslie's avatar

Oy. So, he’s been “cheating” on her for years. She has a form of what would be close to Stockholm Syndrome probably. He treated her like crap, but she can’t imagine life without him. I can identify with that myself.

Most likely she is over focused on his good qualities and can’t even remember the shitty things he has done.

The brain is a tricky tricky thing.

longgone's avatar

@Seek I feel for you. I love my friends, but their breakups are freaking exhausting.

janbb's avatar

I have learned at long-last that even close friends do not need to hear every mood swing you go through when a romance is over. I think my friends are much happier with me now! :-)

Seek's avatar


So, after some research on “rebound syndrome”, and much internal debate on whether it would be better or worse, I decided to introduce her to a good-looking, single friend of mine who shares similar interests with her. They’re both SCA members, but had never interacted at an event before. They’re both passionate about fitness. And they’re both incredibly attractive.

They’re going out this weekend, and next weekend, and Memorial Day. Because apparently when people really hit it off they plan dates a month in advance. Or something.

Current psychology research suggests that people with anxiety and low self-esteem more often actually benefit from “rebound” relationships – it removes the “Am I dateable?” question and improves their confidence. I’m holding out hope this is the case here.

And if nothing else both of them seriously need to get laid.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Seek You are indeed a great friend. That’s what I would have offered!

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